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If it’s been just you and your dog, or you, your dog and your kids for some time, then introducing a new partner or any other permanent human addition into the household can be a stressful and confusing time for your pet. Dogs are pack animals, and their pack will be composed of not only any other dogs which they live with or socialise with, but also yourself and your family too. Your dog’s place in his pack, position within the pecking order and how he interacts with the other members as part of his day to day life is the glue which holds his world together, makes him feel secure and gives him his place in the world. So understandably, bringing a new person into his pack or family unit can present a range of challenges and issues which it’s important to think about and understand fully, in order to ensure that your dog and your new partner get on, accept each other and in time, come to view each other as family and enjoy each other’s company.
Does your partner actually like dogs in general and your dog in particular? If your new partner actively dislikes dogs... What are you doing with them? A person who does not like dogs is unlikely to be willing or able to bond with or get on with your dog, and you should give serious consideration to the viability of the situation if this is the case. If your new partner has previously owned dogs, likes dogs and has a good basic understanding of dog psychology and behaviour, you’re off to a head start. Its important to guide your new partner in terms of their interaction with your dog, teach them about your dog’s personality, behaviour and lifestyle, and make sure that when your partner interacts with your dog, they do so consistently with the behaviour your dog is already used to and do not give conflicting commands or information.
By the point at which your new partner is about to move into your home or has begun to spend a significant amount of time there, your dog should already be well used to them, recognise them and have started building a relationship with them. The first time dog and partner meet should not be the day your partner moves in! Start taking your dog out with your partner, taking them to your partner’s house if possible, and encouraging them interact with each other and get used to each other. They will need to be able to establish between them their feelings about each other, how they communicate and how they get on. Build up to leaving your dog with your partner unsupervised, and building up positive associations with your partner in your dog’s mind- such as going for walks, being given treats and play time, and other fun things which will help them to bond and help your dog to see your new partner as a positive influence in his life.
Your dog’s home is his territory, and it his job, in his mind, to protect that territory from outsiders and strangers. If your dog views your new partner as an intruder or stranger, they will be unhappy having them inside of the home. Getting dog and partner used to each other beforehand as mentioned above is important, as is introducing your partner into the home gradually. This often happens organically as over time, your partner goes from being someone who pops round now and then, to someone who stays longer and leaves some of their possessions in your home, to becoming a permanent fixture. Make sure that your dog’s regular sleeping spot, toys, favourite places and where he retreats to chill out and relax are not compromised. Consistency is important for dogs, so if you are changing one part of his routine by adding an additional person into the mix, make sure you don’t shake up other things at the same time.
When a new partner moves in, there’s a lot to be going on with in terms of having someone in your space and getting on with the difference in your routine on a daily basis. If, on the surface of it, your dog appears accepting of the change and happy with your new partner, it can be easy to overlook the impact of the change to their daily routine as well, and inadvertently provide additional avoidable stress to your dog along the way. Try to keep your dog’s routine as near to normal as possible, introduce any changes gradually, and keep an eye out for the indicators of stress such as acting out, misbehaviour or depression in your dog.
To your dog, you are his world- you are the most important person in his life. Suddenly finding that they have to share you, and even compete with another person for your attention and affection can be very hard on your dog, and can lead to jealousy and bad behaviour aimed at gaining your attention and getting rid of their new rival! Whether or not his becomes an issue in your home depends greatly on your dog’s personality and past experiences, but there are lots of ways in which you and your new partner can ease the transition. Make sure that your partner and your dog are building their own relationship which is not dependent on you; that they do things together, play together, and that your dog receives attention from your partner. If possible, arrange for your partner to be the person who feeds your dog for a while, and that he is familiar with your dog’s training and commands and uses them consistently. Similarly, it’s important to make sure that you yourself still spend plenty of time with your dog, play with them as much as ever and give and receive affection with them as much as before. Don’t neglect your dog in the wake of your partner moving in; in the mid to long term, the addition of a new partner to your home should mean that your dog is loved by twice as many people as before, not half as many.
Although of course it is to be hoped that the transition for your dog and your new partner will go smoothly, in some cases it will take a little longer for things to settle. Your dog may begin acting out and misbehaving to signal their unhappiness or dissatisfaction with the situation, which can cause a range of problems. If your dog is disobedient, becomes unruly or starts doing things which they know will annoy you, such as chewing the furniture, inappropriate toileting or failing to obey commands, it is important to respond consistently. Allowing bad behaviour or letting your dog off now and then in the wake of the changes to your home can be tempting, and your dog’s potential behaviour is somewhat understandable- but it is vital to make sure that the established framework of commands which you have always used with your dog are kept constant. Blurring the boundaries and changing your responses to your dog’s actions, good or bad, is actually more harmful and places an additional strain on your dog by introducing yet another change to his established routine. While it is important to maintain consistency, you should also think about the direct reasons for your dog’s behaviour and how you can remove the problems that are causing it. Have you ensured that your dog still feels safe on his own territory? Is your partner being consistent with your dog? Is your dog still receiving enough attention from you?
Remembering that your dog is going through a big change in his life is the most important part of successfully implementing the addition of a new partner into the home, or making any other change. Take things slowly, think about your dog’s needs and issues, and involve your new partner in the process, and you should find that in time, your dog and your new partner become firm friends. Happy dating!
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